Breastfeeding: part 2

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Read PART ONE and catch up!  :)

Two days after Matilda turned one, I found out I was expecting our second child.  This came as a sudden whirlwind of joy, as we were certainly trying for another pregnancy but not expecting such swift results (it took nearly a year to conceive our first!)  I was still breastfeeding Matilda, and my explosion of new pregnancy hormones started to wreak havoc on my milk.  Some may argue this point, and even my Pediatrician didn't quite believe me, but within weeks, my sweet and jolly Matilda turned into a PMSing-rage-a-holic-tantrum-ridden-Jekyll-and-Hyde that seemed so irrational I could not put my finger on anything other than my hormone-rich breastmilk to blame.  Sure enough, within 48 hours of stopping breastfeeding cold turkey, Matilda was her chipper self again.  (You can't convince me that's a coincidence.)

Just like that, my baby was a toddler and my new baby was growing inside of me...ready to nurse in a mere 8 more months.  Anticipating Daphne's arrival, I eased into my new found freedoms:  no more leaking in public, no more objection to caffeine or the occasional wine, no more homeopathic remedies to take the place of good old fashioned Nyquil when an horrific cold would set in, and no more nursing bras with those annoying clasps that only Houdini could have done one-handed (I never did master that).  My boobs were back!  Bring on the underwires!  Bring on the Merlot!  And I cuddled my rambunctious Matilda in great anticipation that a new infant would soon be in my arms again, sure to double my joy.

Daphne's birth brought with it the same, difficult scenario of a long labor followed by a c-section.  And, as if played out like a syndicated rerun of my life, I found myself immersed in the world of breastfeeding.  I felt like I had just cliff dived into the ocean.  It was beautiful, it was pretty much what I expected, and it was more exhilarating than anyone could have prepared me for.  Same song, different verse, this new baby brought familiar situations to the surface while uncovering deep emotions I hadn't foreseen the first time around.

Nursing a new baby is a challenge.  Nursing a new baby while your twenty-month old toddler is screaming at you to pick her up is entirely another.  Somehow this hadn't registered in my planning-ahead when I looked forward to this secondary season of breastfeeding.  I longed for the quiet days of being able to stare into my child's content eyes, feeling her comfort expand, sensing the relief we were both experiencing, and truly encountering that mystical "bond" that the act of breastfeeding promised.  Not so, when a young, needy, irrational, and LOUD toddler is nipping at your heels for attention (and rightly so!)  I would have given anything to unhook my breast, hand it to my husband and somehow attend to everyone's need at once (such is the life of a mother, right?)

Nevertheless, beyond the convenience, the health, the nutrition of what breastfeeding supplies, it soon became clear to me that God designed this time as a purposefully still time that demanded the mother SIT.  I began to joke that if it weren't for breastfeeding, I would only sit down when I had to pee and that would be it.  What I had sensed as burdensome the first time around took on a new definition with the new baby, and breastfeeding turned into moments of luxury for me to hold dear.  A chance to sneak into the other room.  A time to rightfully say "No, wait." to my toddler without resentment or guilt.  A moment to depart into a glimmer of peace that calmly hosted my baby and my weary mind.

As the months wafted by like steam dissipating from a freshly baked pie, the sweet aroma of these new-baby memories accumulated into a very specific treasure chest in my heart.  Breastfeeding my baby was coming to an end.  At the turn of the year, Daphne approached her 18-month milestone and I started to feel the tug of time clenching the end of this phase for us.  She had already benefitted 6 months longer than Matilda, so this was new territory for my breastfeeding self.  I had not been working outside the home on a regular basis, so I did not have the breastpump to diminish my supply, keeping me more than amply prepared to nourish her upon demand.

All this to say, a couple more months went by where I started questioning friends and family how and when they thought it might be time for me to stop.  Was it getting weird?  Was she too old?  Was I perpetuating her desire for it?  Was I ready to stop?  This led up to the final few weeks, less than a month ago, where I finally came to a very important conclusion that only I could decide:  WHO CARES?  It simply couldn't matter what anyone else thought in this particular scenario.  It's a very wide gray area, and extremely individual, and I just had to come to terms with what I wanted to do.

I think it's really important when it comes to breastfeeding that we, especially as fellow moms, shut our traps and give full support.  The more people who smiled and encouraged me to just feel it out for myself and trust my motherly instinct were vital to my feeling secure it was time to stop.  I found myself insecure and worried that if I mentioned I was still nursing my 20-month-old it would be met with cringing snubs or unimpressed shrugs, neither of which I was very keen on.  I finally had to trust that God had gifted me to be Daphne's mother, therefore I was somehow (thank you, Jesus) empowered with the ability (no matter how flawed) to determine what I found best for myself and my child.

A natural "out" surfaced just a couple weeks ago.  Daphne came down with a fever and I didn't hesitate to nurse her when her little body lacked hydration.  A couple days later, when she was well again, she started to get greedy in her anticipation of my response and tested the waters (so to speak) demanding to be fed throughout the night.  I found no reason to A) take a step backwards, and B) prolong the inevitable.  So, without further adieu, I declared halfway through the day that the last round at her waking had, indeed, been the very last.  I found it much easier, emotionally, to look back upon the last feeding without much memory or significance rather than build up to an emotional farewell at the bedtime feeding.  Done meant done, and I didn't want to go through the torment of dragging it out or anticipating the end of this breastfeeding era.  I had spent weeks dwelling over the finality of it, and by the time the door swung open with opportunity for quitting, I was ready to lock it shut for good.

Thirty-six hours later, I was miserably engorged, laden with ice packs and feverishly fighting off signs of mastitis among other emotional havoc.  What have I done?  Can someone remind me why I'm not letting my baby relieve me of this pain?  But, morning brought a smidge of relief, and a new dose of ibuprofen along with the reality that the worst was surely over.

No one ever told me that giving up breastfeeding might be just as challenging as taking it on.  This journey of love and bonding and burdensome comfort are end capped with crucial phases of pain and doubt.  My physical engorgement seemed to mimic the overwhelming swell that my heart had been experiencing all along, that this truly was a short-lived time in my life to be cherished and never forgotten.  Someday this baby who I just held at my breast so tenderly and vulnerably, will be a grown person making decisions for herself, who I will trust to put her dependency on God and have her needs met nearly exclusively not by me.  This little creature who found comfort and nourishment, who I was so willing to STOP and be still with, will (I pray) grow to learn and be still...apart from me.  And that's heart-wrenching.

She needs me less today than she needed me then.  (Brutal truth that can be hard to swallow as a mother.)  And breastfeeding painstakingly taught me to cut the first of the apron cords, with many more to follow.  Her needs will be met, but not always by me.  This is wonderful!  This is freeing!  This is scary as scary can be.  And the frightening reality of what our breastfeeding era represented struck me to my core when I realized now that it is irretrievable.  But, then, isn't this the goal of growth through motherhood?  Allowing our little nestlings to step out a bit further into the great unknown and forcing (both) our dependencies on God to extend to new heights (with limits only set by our own doubts).

New freedoms, new phases, and new eras will surely march in with exceedingly wonderful blessings I have yet to understand.  As my girls grow, as they take on their own strengths, gifts, tendencies and somehow miraculously absorb the bit of wisdom God allows me to bestow into their lives, the harder it gets for me to step back.  Breastfeeding my girls was more than just a time to cheaply feed them or shed pregnancy pounds or even provide a bond between mother and baby.  It was a specific duration gifted to me in my life (twice!) that allowed me the opportunity to experience a new range of emotions (we're talking about entirely, whole new feelings) and new lessons in motherhood and life that I otherwise might have missed.

READERS: How did breastfeeding change you?  What did you experience after that phase ended?  What advice might you offer a new mother regarding breastfeeding?

1 comment:

  1. I read this and wish I was this sentimental about nursing. =)

    I loved nursing Emmy. It was such a sweet time in an otherwise chaotic year. I had no plans of how or when to wean her, but a week after her first birthday I realized that I had just become a walking pacifier. She drank and ate beautifully, and was only nursing in five minute increments just before she fell asleep. And she was still waking up at night to nurse for comfort. I did something similar to you - I decided we were done, effective immediately, and after the first night she never cared again.

    With Brennan I am so tempted to throw in the towel for the sake of sleep. But honestly, with four children, sometimes the only times I really look at him all day are when I'm nursing him (though I'm only sitting a fraction of the time - I'm usually nursing while eating my own meal, or when he was tiny, while Emmy was doing headstands on the couch right beside me). I don't want to give up that time with him. While it would be nice, honestly, if he didn't need me as much, I also don't want to give up the connection with him.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!


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